Diebold fraud: is a paper trail enough?


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

    Congress Takes One Step Forward on Verifiable Voting
    By Matt Renner
    t r u t h o u t | Report
    Thursday 10 May 2007

Legislation aimed at overhauling how people vote moved out of a Congressional 
committee Tuesday. The bill is intended to address problems that have hamstrung 
recent national elections.

US House Resolution 811 was drafted by Rep. Rush Holt (D-New Jersey) and has 212
current cosponsors. The bill was passed with two amendments by the Committee on 
House Administration. According to Speaker Nancy Pelosi's office, it's on a fast
track to be voted on by the full House.

The bill is an amendment to the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which was passed 
after the debacle in Florida during the 2000 general election. HAVA funded the 
replacement of old voting systems and gave rise to a new generation of 
technology-based systems that have been proven untrustworthy. Most notable of 
these are the Direct Recording Electronic voting systems (DRE), which store 
electronic records of votes and use those records to tabulate election outcomes.
Computer scientists have shown that elections employing these machines are not 
safe from hackers.

Holt's efforts have come under scrutiny from grass-roots activists and experts 
who have been deeply involved in election integrity. Many of these activists 
oppose the Holt legislation because it does not go far enough in ensuring that 
elections are secure. They seek further citizen oversight and a ban on DRE 
voting systems. But the bill has supporters in activist circles, including 
MoveOn.org, Common Cause, and People For the American Way (PFAW). These groups 
point to the urgency of getting some kind of legislation passed that can be 
implemented before the 2008 elections.

While the bill does not ban electronic voting machines, it does require that all
voting machines include a paper record for auditing purposes. If passed in its 
current form, the bill would require signs to be hung in polling places 
reminding voters to check the paper records for errors after they complete their

This voter-verification process is not sufficient, according to an election 
security insider on the front lines. John Bonifaz, constitutional lawyer and 
founder of the National Voting Rights Institute, is co-counsel in a lawsuit to 
challenge the result of the Congressional election in Florida's 13th district 
between Republican Vern Buchanan and Democrat Christine Jennings. The contest 
was decided by a mere 369-vote margin in favor of Buchanan. Investigations into 
the election results showed that roughly 18,000 voters in Sarasota County had 
apparently not voted in the hotly contested race. With a razor-thin margin of 
victory, a 13 percent undervote in Democratic-leaning Sarasota County could have
cost Jennings the election.

Because Sarasota voters used DRE voting systems with no paper record, the 
election cannot be audited. According to Bonifaz, the voter-verified paper 
record requirement in the new Holt bill would not be sufficient to prevent 
future election problems like the one in Florida. Bonifaz points to a study by 
the California and Massachusetts Institutes of Technology that tested the 
accuracy and effectiveness of voter-verified paper trails. The study found that 
voters were very unlikely to recognize errors on the paper record after their 
electronic ballots were completed. According to Bonifaz, "with most voters not 
verifying their votes, most of those missing votes would still be missing - and 
with no way to recover them and derive voter intent."

People For the American Way President Ralph Neas praised the advancement of the 
Holt bill in a press release Tuesday: "If voting machine problems are a 
sickness, the Holt bill is good medicine. We must make every effort possible to 
ensure that an injustice like Sarasota never happens again ..." David Becker, 
senior counsel for PFAW, contributed to the drafting of the Holt bill. In 
response to the concerns raised by activists who oppose the Holt bill because it
lacks a complete ban on DRE machines, Becker said "this will not be the last 
piece of election reform passed in history. It is urgent that a reform bill be 
passed now or else it will not be ready by November 2008."

Amendments were made to the Holt legislation in markup on Tuesday. Rep. Zoe 
Lofgren (D-California) introduced two amendments that would allow more time for 
counties that already have some version of a paper record to comply with the new
Holt requirements.

Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Massachusetts) attached an amendment that requires polling 
places to offer every voter the opportunity to use a paper ballot. At the time 
of this writing, it is not clear when or how these paper ballots would be 

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